Sunday, July 9, 2017

Snickerdoodles


This summer my grad school program decided to offer classes in 2, 5-week summer sessions. I decided to stick with one class during the first summer session, (please don't ever make me take a research methods and statistics class in 5 weeks again...) which means I actually have the rest of the summer to chill... and bake!

I started the weekend by making a traditional flan recipe for a dinner party. The hardest part to me was caramelizing the sugar (I tried the recipe twice and it's gonna take some practice)... however it was delicious and devoured at the party, so win win.

After the dinner party, we were sent home with leftovers of chicken ropa vieja and scratch black beans. Such good food! Send your guests home with leftovers and they'll love you forever!

However, when you're sent home with leftovers, it means you have a dish to return. And being raised with good southern manners, I like to return a dish filled with treats.. Which gave me a good reason to crack out the mixing bowls and make cookies!

I debated what kind of cookies to make our friends. I thought about the classic chocolate chip, my favorite peanut butter... but for some reason snickerdoodles kept coming to mind. Snickerdoodles are old fashioned simple vanilla cookies that are coated with cinnamon and sugar.

They were some of the first cookies I learned to make as a child, and there's just something cozy and warm about them. They are the perfect cookies to pair with a hot cup of tea and a good book. Cliched maybe, but a good "librarian" cookie!


Snickerdoodles
free of gluten, dairy, and soy
adapted from the recipe in Southern Living Christmas Cookies c. 1986, pg. 62
makes 24 cookies

Wet Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Dry Ingredients
Coating Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon 

Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 
  2. Line a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet
  3. In a small bowl mix together the coating ingredients and set aside. 
  4. In a medium mixing bowl cream together the shortening with the sugar. Add the egg & vanilla extract and stir until smooth and creamy. 
  5. In a separate bowl whisk together all dry ingredients. 
  6. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until fully incorporated. The dough will be firm, but not dry. 
  7. Roll the dough into balls by teaspoons. Roll the balls into the coating mixture and place on a baking sheet 1" apart. 
  8. Flatten the cookies into circles with the bottom of a glass. 
  9. Bake 6-8 minutes until cookies are golden. 
  10. Remove cookies from oven and allow to cool COMPLETELY before removing from the pan. They are fragile and will break if you don't allow them to cool completely!
  11. Enjoy with a cup of hot tea or a big tall glass of milk! 


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Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Brave New World...


Dear fellow non-Tr*mp supporting Americans,

I know it's hard right now. I feel it deep down to my bones every single morning. With a deep sigh and a slight headache I wonder what I'm going to face in each morning's newspaper.

It's a scary time right now. And as my friend Cheryl said, 'this is new to all of us" and I'm still not exactly sure how we move forward. We can fight, we can stay informed, we can make amazing signs and participate in history-making marches, we can write blog posts, we can make the time to write or call our state and local legislators to make sure our voices are heard (in addition to voting of course)... but all of this especially for introverts is exhausting.

I'm not only an introvert, but one who is also highly sensitive... a term I'm not entirely comfortable with, because it sounds like I can't handle anything, I can't take any type of criticism, etc... but what it really means is that I'm extremely aware of the energy, vibrations, emotions, and changes around me.

  • It means there are days I can't handle lights, noises, or even things like the electricity of a tv being on. 
  • It means I can only wear certain types of clothing because fabrics that rub my skin the wrong way could make my entire day miserable. 
  • It means I hate being in a crowd and I love one-on-one company, but even then I can be completely drained after an hour or two. 
  • It means I get where my dog is coming from on most days and how she responds to my energy. 

I also realize this sounds like nonsense to a lot of people, but if this sounds familiar to you, or you're interested in understanding more about highly sensitive personalities, please visit Elaine Aron's site. And more to the point it helps explain how basically this whole political thing has been a huge challenge, because I feel that justice, simple decency, human rights, and basic democracy are being violated every single day... and therefore my beliefs and my rights are being violated every single day. So it's hard. There are days it seriously sucks.



This image has been popping up in my Facebook feed a lot lately. And right now, it basically feels like my life. I want to be informed, I want to know what's going on and I want to be up to speed on what's going to happen to our country. The thing is... none of us really know... and no matter how informed I am, I'm not going to know exactly what's going on. This administration is moving so quickly and with such bewilderingly little wisdom or thought, that I just can't keep up on a daily basis.

So I'm still learning how to do this. I'm still learning how to wake up every day in the country we're in, with the administration at hand, and still go about my day like it's just "another day." Because even just saying that feels like giving up or giving in or simply being complacent.

However, I'm also learning that it's not complacency. Being complacent means not caring at all, pretending it's not happening, and not being willing to participate in making changd. And I care about the future of our country more than I've ever cared before. Ever. I can honestly say before November 7, 2016 I was somewhat complacent, however after, I never will be again.

So how do we do this? How do we keep on living in the midst of fear, in the midst of instability, and in the midst of a country that's changing every single day?

Emma says hi... she'd really like a bone
and she wishes you wouldn't
worry so much...  because it makes

her worry too, and she's an A+ worrier :-p

I honestly don't know yet. But I'm trying. And I'm learning that self-care right now is more important than ever. So the next few weeks I'm going to lay low with social media. With two grad school classes (which probably is a blessing in disguise right now) I'm going to focus on what I can.

I also eventually plan on reading Aldous Huxley's classic "A Brave New World" which I've heard much like Margaret Atwood's "A Handmaid's Tale," as it relates to so much of what we've been going through the past year and a half.

So what about YOU? How are you coping? Are you okay? What are you doing to take care of yourself these days. I'd love to know what types of self-care are working well for you. 

We're all in this together. Please know you're not alone. 






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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Peace, Hope, & Balance for 2017


Free background artwork from Susanbranch.com

It's hard to believe we're ten days into a brand new year. In our home, the ringing in of 2017 was quiet and tiptoed in on little cat paws. I just barely made it to midnight and the TV reporters on the Raleigh, NC station were so distracted in mindless conversation that they actually missed showing the ceremonial acorn dropping until about three seconds before midnight.

In some ways that distraction represents the entirety of 2016 for me. Personally, it wasn't a bad year. We are healthy, my dad is doing fairly well all things considered, and I feel like I found my stride with grad school classes. But the world went a bit crazy. I could rant and rave and share incendiary political discourse... but it isn't the time. And I'm tired.

Especially in the last three months of 2016, I made time for quiet. It's been a necessity as much as something I enjoy. The world is changing and sometimes the best thing we can do is take care of ourselves, so we can take care of the people and animals we love.

I made time to enjoy small things like cups of hot tea, viewing books of artwork (Susan Branch's older self-illustrated cookbooks have been a favorite lately), doing word finds -- this is strangely relaxing to me, and catching up on holiday baking and cooking.

Now that the hustle and bustle of the holidays are over and we're entering into the new year, I've decided to pick several words to focus on. I'm inspired by my friend Clara who has participated in the "one word" challenge for several years. Since I'm obviously an over-achiever (ha!) I'm choosing three words for 2017:

peace
hope
balance

All three of these words seem equally fitting and challenging in the current political climate. I plan on incorporating these themes into my life as I continue to make time for quiet. It may mean much less social media and much more: mindful writing, journaling, taking walks, coloring, baking muffins, purposefully being grateful, finding beauty, and cultivating kindness.


So what are your plans? Are you a New Year's Resolutions type? Do you make goals? Do you find more time for quiet? I'd love to know your thoughts on creating or making change in a new year.

Blessings to you in 2017!


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Monday, July 25, 2016

Little ms. anxiety opens her proverbial closet...




One person I'm incredibly thankful for in my life is my longtime friend Cheryl. Cheryl has been a friend, mentor, and my wellness/nutrition coach for quite a few years. She has a true gift for helping me (and I have no doubt many, many others) through personal mental and emotional challenges. In my last post I wrote about how life happens in seasons. For me, tough seasons can also bring little ms. anxiety full swing back into my life.

Little ms. anxiety? 

Oh... you don't know her? 

I guess I haven't officially introduced you to her. I don't talk a lot about her...  as she is often an unwelcome guest in my life. I'm going to make a grand assumption and guess that many of you may also deal with your own versions of little ms. anxiety. If you don't have anxiety yourself, I can promise that someone in your circle of friends and family does.

During a recent conversation, with Cheryl's help, I realized that a current life situation was making me feel shameful, embarrassed, and kind of like a failure.  I had a hard time finding the words for how I was feeling and what was bothering me... but Cheryl was able to interpret my thoughts and get to the heart of what I was actually feeling. During the end of the conversation I mentioned that shame loves to take over my head when little ms. anxiety comes to visit. Cheryl responded, "It's like when BrenĂ© Brown talks about "shame" gremlins and how they can't thrive in the light..." and that evening, that particular little gem really stuck with me. (If you've never had the privilege of listening/watching one of Ms. Brown's epic and viral TED talks, please take 20 minutes and have a listen.

We don't talk enough about little ms. anxiety. While the stigma of mental illness has lessened dramatically over the years, it's still there. It's still VERY much there.

I had a doctor's appointment last week. It was a new, establishing appointment at the practice. This physician's office is close to my work and I knew it would make life easier in the future if I could become a patient at this location.

If you live with little ms. anxiety on your heels you probably have triggers. Triggers can be things, places, events, situations, or even people that send your anxiety into overdrive. One of my big triggers is a doctor's office. ANY doctor's office. I have terrible white coat syndrome. My blood pressure shoots through the roof when I simply try to call and make a doctor's appointment, let alone once I'm actually in the doctor's office for a checkup.

The Visit

But I bucked up, made my appointment, and showed up 20 minutes early. I knew that I would most likely be seeing an intern since this office was affiliated with our medical school. I was okay with that. No problem. Everybody needs experience... right? I even brought all my meds. Dude, I was on top of things. I was going to kick-ass this appointment.

Go in. Show the insurance cards and pay the co-pay. No problem... even laughed with the receptionist. Man, I can do this.

Get called back to the triage area. (For those of you who suffer from anxiety, please know, I'm feeling it rise as I'm writing this. Even remembering the stress of the experience is an anxiety trigger for me. I'm breathing deep and I do know I'll feel better once I can share my words since writing is one form of therapy for me... so let's keep going...)  I get my weight and height recorded... I gently remind myself that weight scales at MD offices ALWAYS read higher than my scale at home. No problem.

Next, the med tech sits me down to take my blood pressure. I place my things down, and immediately let her know that doctor's appointments make me very nervous. I have serious white coat syndrome, my blood pressure will be at least 20 points higher here than it is at home. One thing I have learned with Cheryl over the years is to own my story. That when I can, if I can put words to my feelings, speak my truth, and tell people what I need, it tampers down the anxiety. It helps me, it helps them. Practice when you can.

The med tech is kind, tells me I have nothing to be nervous about, to take deep breaths and she'll begin to take my blood pressure. As expected it's almost exactly 20 points higher than it reads at home. No worries. We're good. I follow her to the examination room. She tells me that my doctor will be in shortly.  Still good. No problem.

I wait patiently in the room. I took one of the chairs in the corner of the small room. I message Michael and tell him all is well, I'm at the doctor's office. I am nervous though. He texts back immediately letting me know it will be just fine. Soon after the doctor comes in. She's young. I know she's nervous, freshly out of med school, ready to take on the world. She kindly asks what I'd like to be called and then we review all the normal things: family medical history, medications you're on, are you having any new issues... etc.. etc... All good. A few nervous laughs. No problem.

She asks if there's anything new I would like to address today. Because life had been stressful the past few weeks, a friend recommended that I ask for something like Xanax to help me through really challenging situations. Honestly, I was nervous about asking for it. I don't like having to take medications in the first place, who does really? However, the medications I do take have made my life enormously better. The mood stabilizer that I've used for 10 years is clearly written in my medical history. Anxiety and panic disorder is also clearly noted. It's been relatively well managed with my medication.

One thing I know is that anxious people are anxious about asking for help. It's one more thing to make us look needy, weak, and powerless over our emotions and our life. But I asked. I could feel the sweat in my palms when I asked about it and I truly, I made it clear this was NOT something I needed all the time. I JUST needed it for occasional, very stressful moments in life. I just wanted a backup when I felt my anxiety getting out of control.

The doctor actually seemed nervous, but also rather understanding of this. She seemed to think that since I had a long history with anxiety and I'd taken other medications for a long period of time, it really shouldn't be too big of a deal. She needed to run everything by her preceptor, but she didn't seem to think it would be an issue to get a prescription for some type of immediate-acting anxiety medication.

The Downward Spiral... 

Several minutes later after hearing the intern and the preceptor discussing my information right outside my door (seriously, do they not realize we can hear through those doors?)... the preceptor, who was CLEARLY in a hurry came bustling in. He quickly shook my hand. Introduced himself and then stated very quickly that we needed to do the blood work necessary for my other medications and that this practice was very conservative in the area of prescribing new medications.

Honestly, he was talking so fast, and I was so nervous at this point, I wasn't exactly sure what was being said. But somewhere in the midst of the conversation, he said that two psychologists were on there way down to talk to me about how to deal with my stress... you don't have to worry it's all covered, no extra cost... blah blah blah... and then he walked out of the room.

No double checking to make sure I understood what he said... no time for additional questions and answers... 

wait... what? annnndddd enter little ms. anxiety... making a HUGE appearance on stage right...

WAIT... You're sending TWO psychologists down to talk to me NOW? The intern and the preceptor were gone from the room and I was left waiting... I had no idea what was really going on. What had I done wrong? I was scared, my heart was racing, and I did NOT want to talk to anybody.

The intern came back into the room and my hands were shaking and I had started to cry and she handed me a box of tissues. "It's okay! It's okay!" she said several times, but at the moment I couldn't get any words to come. I was just completely in the midst of a panic attack not knowing what was happening and after she handed me the tissues, I think I may have mumbled out something like "I'm not comfortable with this..." and as soon as I said that the two psychologists walked in the room and the intern left.

Now let's set the scene. A patient who manages somewhat severe anxiety is literally sitting in the corner of a very small exam room. Without really understanding what's going on, two psychologists are sent into the room to talk to her. One of the psychologists is sitting up tall on the exam table and other is sitting on a stool. In the anxiety-riddled patient's mind, it feels as both these people are towering over her as if she's trapped in a literal corner, unable to escape. No one has made it entirely clear why the psychologists are here and why she has to talk to them. Does she have a choice? Why did all this happen so quickly? What the HELL is going on?

The psychologists were also probably twelve, cute as buttons, and excited about having a really crazy person who asked for drugs to analyze... at least that was the impression I got. Never mind HIPPA... I wondered what they'd be posting to their Facebook accounts once they were done with me.

These two young women shared the latest and greatest psychobabble I'd ever heard and said nice things like.. "If you're okay with this, we're going to sit down for some nice "TALK TIME"... so tell me what's bothering you and how you feel about that... when they were finally settled and in their seats and had explained their purpose, how we could schedule "talk time" any time I wanted, and how great of a service it is (I'm sure it is!).... they FINALLY got around to letting me actually talk.

But little ms. anxiety was so strongly reacting that the only things I could manage to say as FIRMLY as possible through tears and blubbering were, "I'M NOT OKAY WITH THIS. I ALREADY talk to someone on a regular basis, I told the intern that. I DO NOT FEEL COMFORTABLE talking to you. THIS IS NOT OKAY." Which seemed to have left both of the psychologists speechless, twiddling thumbs for a second or two... one of the two offered to leave the room... and then the other decided they both should... They left by saying they appreciated my honesty.

Once again I hear whispering and talking outside of the exam room door. I could hear bits and pieces, "maybe we handled this incorrectly.." I could hear the preceptor trying to tell the intern how to conduct herself for the rest of the visit (how to handle a crazy, crying patient?) And (apparently) offering immediate psychotherapy is just their plan of attack... it's what they have to do.

Honestly, I almost wanted to laugh at this point. I just wanted to tell them.. "Please JUST TALK to me, in front of me, face to face, like I'm a real person. Don't treat me like I'm breakable, just be up front and honest and stop making assumptions about who I am."

Shortly after the intern built up the courage to come back into the room. She sat down in front of the computer and she apologized. She said, they clearly didn't handle the situation correctly and that indeed when a patient asked for such a medication on a first visit red flags went up. That really, they would just prefer that I make a follow up appointment if I was still having problems with the serious anxiety in a few weeks to get that medication. To show I had a history with the practice. Also... she really felt I needed therapy on a weekly basis. Would I like to make an appointment with them now?

That's when I got angry. Through the entire visit, both doctors and the two psychiatrists had made assumptions about me, all because I asked for help. All I had done was ask for another medication to help me with my anxiety. My voice became clear and firm and I stated, "NO. Thank you. I know you don't believe this, but I have a good support system and I speak with someone at least once a month, more often when necessary. This visit hasn't helped me at all." She refilled the other prescriptions I needed and we wrapped up the appointment.

I walked back to my office, edgy, wishing I could go home... knowing I had to put my best face on and get through the rest of the day at work.

So I did... but instead of hiding my anger, frustration, and anxiety... I met little ms. anxiety full on and immediately reached out to my support system -- to my husband, to my coach, to my furry family members when I got home, to my online anxiety support group, and to friends who struggle with similar issues.. and it helped. It helped a lot.

3 years ago, I would have buried my feelings and emotions and struggled for days, if not weeks, from the actions of that one event. 

What Can We Do? 

With the help I've received over the past few years, most of the time, I can now face my anxiety. I can step back from the present, use the tools I've learned, and work through it.  I had NO REASON to feel ashamed about asking for additional medical help and yet sadly, the medical community made me feel that way. No one should ever feel that way. The medical community MUST change how they work with patients who have mental health disorders like anxiety. 

Thankfully by the next day, I could laugh about the situation. In the past, I would not have been able to do that. I was able to talk freely about it to my coach, to co-workers, and to a friend who is affiliated with that medical office. And I felt empowered. I may live with little ms. anxiety on a daily basis... but I will not allow her to rule my life. And honestly, I wish that's what the intern could see (and why I'm writing this post)...the intern and preceptor who probably saw me for a total of 20 minutes were unable to see how far I've come and how much I have accomplished in managing my anxiety and panic disorder. The fact that I was asking for help, was a big step of acceptance and owning my story in my life.

And with this post... I'm opening up the closet of anxiety. It's time to talk about it. It's time to continue to fight against the stigma of mental health disorders which affects at least 1 in 5 Americans to some degree, most untreated. 

So let's open this discussion and talk about it on a regular basis. No one should be ashamed or embarrassed about living with mental health disorders and ASKING for help when they need it. I hope if this is something you've struggled with in your life, you'll join me in demanding better care, options, and treatment. 




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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

When life is messy, expensive, too busy, and ridiculously great...

Charlie... enjoying life on my lap in his teenage years... those nose freckles kill me...  

I have to admit... this summer has been challenging. It's funny to look back around April when I was trying to decide how many grad school classes to take over the summer. I really wanted to take 2, because if I took 2 classes in the summer, and 2 classes next fall... I could be considered mid-way through my program, like most of my classmates...

However, after some much needed guidance from the husband and my wellness coach Cheryl... I realized, I should probably just stick with one class, at least for the shorter summer semester. Boy, did that end up being good advice.

Healthwise, everyone is fine. And that is a huge blessing. Housewise... after living in our home 8+ years now, we knew it was seriously time to start cracking down on some major repairs... which led to the discovery of one REALLY BAD contractor... and two very good ones. The bad contractor made life miserably uncomfortable for nearly a week. The good contractors fixed the mess left behind by the bad contractor and were wonderful... however all of that came at a cost.

Then, as with most things in life... when you start fixing problems... you run into more problems... so now we're working with a plumber to get the "newly-found-pool-located-under-the-house" dried up and the leak fixed...

M and 10 year old Emma. Our "new" 45 pound hamster... 

Throw in a new dog (long story...) with our five cats, a husband having 3 teeth removed for future braces, training a co-worker to be able to fully do my job (in the event of zombies or ya know taking a vacation or something...) and 6 assignments due at one time... I tell ya... I was really thankful for that advice to only take one class.

Something I truly struggle with in life is comparing myself to others and snowballing problems when they arise. Why can't I handle more classes? All my other classmates are... Why can't I handle getting a presentation for work done on top of life when it's crazy? Why do finances always seem to get drained at one time?  We won't even throw in the other natural frustrations that women often have like the "why can't I just be naturally thin... and eat all the cupcakes I want?" Why? Why? Whyyyyyyyy?

It's easy to fall into the "why" instead of accepting the "now."

Whiskey Jack, who always lives in "the now." 

"Now", just is.  It just is. There isn't necessarily a reason, there's no need to worry or wonder... you can simply be right here, right now. There are times when it's the hardest thing you will ever do... like the night when my Dad was barely hanging onto the last strands of life within him (and thank God he held on tight)... but there are other times when you realize accepting the "now" is the best place you can be.

Right now, the house is a mess... there's dog hair and dog slobber all over the kitchen floor even though I swept it two days ago.... Right now, my hair really needs to be washed and it probably looks greasy on top.... Right now, I have no clean white socks... Right now, the refrigerator is pretty empty and payday is a week away... Right now, we have a fan blowing through the crawl space at the house in the hopes the water from the leaky pipe will dry up...  Right now America feels like it's in the midst of a very dark storm, which has been heartbreaking to watch, devastating to hear, and everyone, EVERYONE feels it...

But also Right now, my dad is safe, resting with his feet up, probably watching a favorite classic movie on TV... or snoozing away the afternoon in his favorite recliner. Also right now... while the fridge might be empty, there's a filled up pantry and freezer and it's a fun time to get creative... Right now, we still have a 2nd bathroom to take a shower in and it was darn good timing to catch a bad leak... Right now there are people in my life who, because of programs like Obamacare (despite the room for necessary improvement) are actually healthy now because they were able to get the surgery or medicine they needed to make life "a-whole-lot-more-worth" living... Right now there's a happy, tail-waggin' dog waiting for me to get home to go on our 2nd walk of the day and I'm truly looking forward to that walk.

If I've learned anything the past few years it's that life comes in seasons. Busy seasons, messy seasons, scary seasons, fun seasons, expensive seasons... And sometimes all those seasons get mixed together in one big wallop. Usually, we don't know why. Often the best thing you can do is hang on, figure out where you're at right now, adjust your perspective if necessary, and just be.  (And on some nights, it's ALSO okay to know that a bowl of Breyers natural vanilla never hurts either...)


Some Cool Stuff I wish I wrote this week: 





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